Sunday, December 20, 2015

Blood Cries Chapter 21

Transcript of Interview with Melvin Little conducted by Louella Harper 3/27/1980

Melvin: The last one was that poor little girl.  How stupid could he be? 

The Reverend came to me.  Usually he came in through the front door, but this time he came in through the back.  He said, “Mr. Little, you’ve got to help me.  Now they’re accusing me of killing my own daughter.” 

It wasn’t his blood daughter, but I knew what he meant. 

I said, “Reverend, you say you didn’t kill this girl.”  He always told me he was innocent of the crimes of which he was accused.  I said, “You’re my client, so I have to believe you, but I’m afraid I just can’t defend you anymore.”

Louella: How did he take your decision?

Melvin: Well, he was unhappy, but what could he do?  I had to draw the line somewhere.  He begged and begged, but I wouldn’t relent.  I told him to get out of my office.

June 14, 1977

Melvin was working at his desk when he heard a loud thumping sound coming from the back of the building.  His secretary, Lorrie, had not yet arrived, so there was no one to yell at to go see what the commotion was all about; Melvin had to investigate the problem himself. 

As he entered the back hallway that led to the supply closet, the rattling thump continued, and it became evident that someone was banging on the emergency exit door. 

He pushed the metal bar in the center of the door and it opened to the alleyway.  There he saw a tall man dressed in an expensive three-piece burgundy suit anxiously looking over his shoulder.

“Hello Reverend,” Melvin said. 

The Reverend rushed in past him.  “As much money as I’ve made for you, I should have my own key to your office.”

“I’m surprised about that myself,” Melvin said. “I’ll put it on Lorrie’s list of things to do.”  He followed the Reverend into his office, skirted around his client and took a seat behind his desk where he could watch as the Reverend paced the room.

“We need a plan here,” the Reverend said.  “We need to come up with a strategy.”  A vein protruded from his forehead.

“All right,” Melvin said.  He reached under a stack of papers and pulled out a yellow legal pad.  “No charges have been filed yet, but I expect they will soon.  I’ve already arranged bail, so you shouldn’t have to remain in jail for long.”

“The press is everywhere.  They’re circling around me like vultures.  I barely made it out of the house this morning.  I think someone has betrayed me.”

“Addresses are a matter of public record,” Melvin said.

“I bet it was that reporter who came to my house yesterday.  The one from the Sentinel.”

“Who was that?  Easton?  If Jim had a scoop, I imagine he’d keep it to himself.”

“It’s different this time,” the Reverend said. “Everything is different.”

“Reverend, I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you.  The killing of that girl attracted a lot of attention, and attention puts pressure on the politicians, who then put pressure on investigators.  They’re going to go after someone real hard and you’re in the only man in their searchlight.”

“So, what are you going to do?” asked Reverend Baxter.  He held his gaze on his lawyer as he slowly came around the side of the desk.

 Melvin swiveled toward the man encroaching on his space.  “I’ll get you out of this the same as always.  I just wanted you to know that this is a high profile case and the DA is going to come after you.  I wanted to let you know what you were in for.”
The Reverend came right up to Melvin’s chair, trapping him in the corner. 

Melvin leaned back as far away from the Reverend as he could go, until the back of his chair touched wood paneling.  

The Reverend bent down at the waist, flattened his hands against Melvin’s shoulders, and stared menacingly into Melvin’s eyes, now only inches away from his own.  His voice was soft but clear.  “And I want to let you know what you’re in for if you don’t.”

A little bell jingled at the front of the building.

“That will be Lorrie,” Melvin said quietly.  He cleared his throat.

The Reverend rose to his full height and looked in the direction of the door. 

“We’re back here, Lorrie!” Melvin called.

The Reverend flashed a disdainful look in Melvin’s direction.  He buttoned the front of his jacket and adjusted his lapels before returning to the client’s side of the desk.

Melvin loosened his tie.  For a moment there was silence as he watched the Reverend.  He took a deep breath.  “There’s going to be a lot more press coverage this time.  You’ll just have to get used to the vultures circling.  I’m going to have to defend you in the media even more than in the courtroom, but you shouldn’t speak to any more reporters.  They’ll only twist your words to sell papers.  They don’t give two figs about what’s true and what isn’t.”

Lorrie poked her head in.  “You need something, Mel?”

“No, Lorrie.  Just coffee.  Would you like a cup, Reverend?”

The Reverend shook his head.  “Caffeine makes me anxious.”

“That’ll be all then Lorrie.”

Melvin stood up and walked around his desk.  He placed his hand on his client’s back and escorted him out of the office.  “You just go home and try not to worry about any of this.  You’ve got the best lawyer in the state working for you.”

He pushed open the door, and the Reverend stepped out into the sunlight.  Across the street, a man seemed to recognize them.  He dropped a cigarette and started toward him.  “Hey, Reverend.  Reverend Baxter!”

His voice lured others who had congregated at the front of the building.  Suddenly reporters were all around, barking questions.

“Keep moving, Reverend,” Melvin said.  “Get to the car.”  The Reverend put his head down and barreled through the gathering crowd while his lawyer held up one hand, as if for peace.  “Reverend Baxter won’t be answering any questions at this time.”

The reporters continued to shout questions.

Reverend Baxter maneuvered to his car.  He flung himself into the driver’s seat and closed the door. 

Reporters surrounded the vehicle.  They shouted questions through the open window.  Some took pictures of him sifting through his ring of keys for the one that would start his car. 

A female reporter thrust a microphone into his face.  “Reverend Baxter, is it true you had a life insurance policy on your stepdaughter?”

Baxter found the key and slipped it into the ignition.  “Lady,” he said, gunning the engine. “If you don’t get that fucking microphone out of my face, I’m going to run over you.”

The woman backed away two steps and stood there stunned, while the Reverend drove away.

Go to Chapter 22

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Blood Cries Chapter 20

June 13, 1977
8:30 a.m.

The reason the press conference was held on the courthouse steps, Jim was told, was because there wasn’t a room in the courthouse big enough to accommodate all of the reporters and media people descending on Jackson City.  

Jim had been one of the few reporters in the state covering the story, but after the death of Lucy Mae Woods, someone at one of the larger Alabama papers had written a piece and it was picked up by the wire services. 

The story went national, fueled by a single word that caught everyone’s attention: voodoo. News agencies from all over the country sent representatives to ferry out the gruesome details.
They milled about the courthouse square like restless ants, suffering in the 90 degree heat, and waiting for someone to emerge from the courthouse and provide them with some new little tidbit of information they could print. 

As he meandered along the edge of the crowd, Jim recognized familiar faces from the Montgomery Advertiser, the Alabama Journal, and WSFATV.  He spotted press badges from the Miami Herald, the Atlanta Constitution, and the Washington Post.  Photographers were rumored to be on site from People Magazine, Life, and Jet

Never before in the history of Jackson City had anything attracted so much national attention, and a festival atmosphere ensued.  Despite the heat, regular citizens wandered up to the square to see what all the fuss was about.  All they needed now, Jim thought, was someone selling hot dogs and balloons.

Not wanting to be marginalized in his own story, he elbowed his way toward the front of the crowd, pausing in certain spots to eavesdrop idle chatter coming from the other reporters.

“Who’s running things here?” He heard someone ask.

“The ABI.  Guy named Victor Ellis.”

“What happened to the Sheriff?  What was his name?”

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter.  He’s out.”

“He had enough chances to catch this guy, I guess.  What do you know about Ellis?”

“Usual bureau type.  Standard issue suit and haircut.  Everything is by the book.”

On cue, Victor Ellis and his entourage spilled out of the courthouse and headed down the steps toward an out-of-place lectern affixed with several large microphones with wires running into the courthouse through a side entrance. 

Jim jostled for position. 

Ellis looked to be in his mid-fifties, but other than his age, only a pair of wire-rimmed glasses distinguished him from every other man in the bureau.  He had the same square jaw, wore the same square haircut, the same square clothes: everything about him was square.

Among the men and women shuffling down the steps after him, Jim made note of the mayor and the chief of police.  Representatives from the sheriff’s office were conspicuously absent.

“Can everyone hear me?” The agent began.  He paused a moment while someone adjusted the sound; then he started again. 

“My name is Agent Ellis from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.  I have a few details to share with you.”  He looked down at his prepared notes.  “In the case of Lucy Mae Woods, an autopsy was conducted yesterday, June 12.  I’m told it lasted over eight hours. 

“I have in my hand the coroner’s report.  As you know, Miss Woods was found dead underneath a 1974 Ford Torino.  It has been determined by our esteemed doctors that this young woman expired prior to the vehicle falling on her.  Consequently, the ABI is treating the matter as a homicide.  As of yet, no arrests have been made, but our investigators are gathering evidence and I can assure you all, just as I want to assure the people of Jackson City and its surrounding areas, that the person who committed this crime will be caught and brought to justice.  I’ll now take a few of your questions.”

“Has the actual cause of death been determined?”

“That’s something we’re still working on.  Next question.”

“When are you going to arrest Baxter?”

“That’s not something I can comment on at this time. I can tell you that we have a suspect, and we expect to make an arrest very soon.  Next question.”

“Did you find any evidence of voodoo at the scene of the crime?”

“This is an ongoing investigation.  I’m not going to comment on any details at this time.”

There was murmuring among the crowd at the mention of voodoo.

“I heard he has a room in his house where he stores shrunken heads,” mumbled one of the reporters closest to Jim.

“You should ask him about that.”

Jim heard another voice rise above the hum.  “Can you confirm that a doll filled with pins was found on top of the girl’s body?”

As Ellis proceeded to not answer the question, Jim noticed someone sidling up beside him. “Hey, are you Easton?” The man asked. 

Jim nodded.

“I’m Dave Everett from the Birmingham News.” He flashed his press badge.  “I’ve been following your coverage in the Sentinel.”

“I didn’t know anyone read our paper outside the city limits.”

“It’s good stuff.  Say, after the press conference, maybe I could buy you a cup of coffee.  I’d like to pick your brain.”

“That sounds good,” Jim said.  “I’ll have to have a rain check though. I’m late for an appointment.”

“Is it about the story?  Mind if I tag along?”

“No, this is personal,” Jim said.  “I’ll catch up with you later.” 

He tried to maintain a leisurely pace as weaved his way through the crowd, but once he broke onto open concrete, he made a beeline for his car, checking over his shoulder occasionally to make sure no one was following him.

10:05 a.m.*
Jim knocked on the door of the Reverend’s cottage. Within seconds, a curtain moved in a nearby window, and then a chain lock rattled on the other side of the door.  It opened and the Reverend hustled him inside.

Jim found himself in a well-kept formal living room filled with a style mix of new and classic furniture.  The floor was covered in light green carpet.  A red velvet sofa was pushed against one wall underneath a painting of a pot of daisies.  Other than the couch, the only other furniture was an end table, a Tiffany-style lamp, and two hard-back wooden chairs with burgundy-upholstered seats. 

The Reverend flitted from the door to the window.  “Did you park where I told you?”

“Down the street and around the corner,” Jim said.  “In front of a neighbor’s house.”  He looked for a place to sit, choosing the chair closest to the end table.

“Did anyone follow you?”

“Um…” Jim placed his cassette recorder on an end table and popped the eject button.  “No.  Everyone is still at the press conference.  You should be safe for a while.”  He removed the cassette, looked at the reel of tape, and then flipped it upside down and slid it back into the recorder.

Baxter turned to look at his visitor.  “It’s not the press I’m worried about.”

“I didn’t see anyone,” Jim said.  “Do you think someone might try and hurt you?”

The Reverend paced the room, then stopped to rest his hands on the back of a chair.  “I know people want to hurt me.  I’m not a fool.  I’ve heard the rumors.  Everyone’s heard the rumors.  After a while you start to believe them.”

“Well, that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about,” Jim said.  “I wondered if you might go through it all with me.  Both the rumors and the facts.”

“It’s bad luck is what it is,” said the Reverend.  “I have terrible luck.”

“Some would say it’s your family members who have terrible luck.”

The Reverend fell silent.  His eyes focused on Jim, who looked down at his cassette recorder.

“I’ve thought about that a lot,” the Reverend said.  His voice was softer than before.  Calmer.  He sat down in a chair.  “It’s crossed my mind that all of these tragedies are not coincidental.”

Jim sat forward in his chair, resting his elbows on knees.  “Do you think someone is trying to set you up?”

“I think someone wants to hurt me.  When my first wife was killed, I believe they were waiting for me, but when she turned up, they took her instead.  They used her to hurt me.”

“Who would do that?" Jim asked.  "Why would anyone do that?”

“I feel like some enemy is out there trying to hinder me.   I can’t see him, but he’s out there.  I’m asking the Lord to see him.  If I stay close to the Lord, I’ll see him too.”

“What about your second wife?  Do you think she was murdered?”

“I believe it was the accident that killed her.  They said in the court that the accident caused the asthma or something like that, but that seems too complicated.  I think she hit or head in the accident, and that was it.”

“So it was just a coincidence?”

The Reverend nodded.

“And your brother?”

“They said someone must have held a gun to his head to make him drink all that alcohol, but…”  The Reverend paused to wipe his eyes.  “But I think… I think J Christopher did that to himself.”  He paused a moment and looked away.  “He was a good man though.”

“What about your nephew?”

“I don’t know.  I just don’t know.”

“Someone told me that you tried to wrestle power of attorney away from your sister so you could collect the insurance money.”

“Who told you that?” asked the Reverend.  “Did she tell you that?”

Jim looked at him, stone-faced.

“I only tried to help that woman.  It was my family duty.  She had started to believe all of those rumors, you see.  She wouldn’t even trust her own brother.”

“And Lucy?”

The Reverend shook his head.  “That girl always had to do everything herself.  I think it was an accident.  I think she was trying to change that tire, and a nut or a bolt or something rolled under the car.  When she went to get it, it fell.  I never did get to go and look for myself. They said it didn’t concern me.  It didn’t concern me!  My own stepdaughter, but it doesn’t concern me.”

“The coroner has ruled that it wasn’t an accident.  The report said she was dead before the car fell on her.”

The Reverend stared down at the carpet.  “I wouldn’t know,” he said.  “I wasn’t allowed to go view the scene for myself.”

“There’s one more thing I have to ask you about,” Jim said, “speaking of rumors.”  He cleared his throat.  “I heard that you have… um… that you have a… voodoo room in your basement.”

The Reverend stared at Jim incredulously.

Well, that’s it, Jim thought.  He’s going to kill me.

The silence seemed to stretch on for a while, and then finally the Reverend asked, “Would you like a tour?” 

Jim felt himself rising out of the chair.  He left his tape recorder running on the table, watched the tape spinning.  He knew he needed to do something—turn it off, take it with him, run screaming out of the house—but felt powerless to do anything.  He followed the Reverend as if pulled by a rope, like he had no control over his own legs. 

At the center of the house, the Reverend opened a door.  He stretched out a hand, inviting Jim to go down the steps first. 

Jim peered down into the darkness.  “Is there a light?” he asked.

“I have to apologize about that,” the Reverend said.  “I’ve been meaning to replace the bulb.”

Jim took the first step onto a creaky wooden plank.   He grasped blindly for a hand rail, but there was none.  He hand slid across unfinished boards with a splintered, peeling texture. 

Heavy boots landed on the steps behind him.  The hairs of Jim’s neck stood on end.  He could feel the Reverend’s presence hovering above him like the angel of death.

No one saw me come here, he thought.  I didn’t tell my editor.  I didn’t even tell my mother.  No one knows I’m here.

He continued down the stairs, using his foot like the cane of a blind person.  He closed his eyes because he could see just as well that way.  Any second, he expected to feel a push against his back and then he would be falling into a pit of blackness and never be heard from again. Why didn’t I tell anyone?  I’m going to visit a suspected murderer and I don’t even let my editor know?

His thoughts continued in this manner until his foot touched the concrete floor.  Again, he waited for something.  A gun barrel against the back of his head?  The blade of a knife against his throat? 

A room appeared in front of him as the Reverend flipped the light switch.  Jim had expected to see a wall of shrunken heads and bookshelves lined with jars and potions, but instead he saw a lot of wicker furniture.

“Well, what do you think?” the Reverend asked.  “I thought I would go with a beach theme.” 

Jim exhaled a literal sigh of relief as he turned to the Reverend.  “I like it,” he said, smiling.  “It’s better than I expected.”   

Go to Chapter 21.

*Much of the dialogue in this section was inspired by or taken directly from newspaper articles including several articles written by Al Benn and appearing in the Alexander City Outlook between June 15, 1977 and June 20, 1977 and “Five Tragic Deaths…” by Lou Elliott, published Sunday June 19, 1977 in the Alabama Journal.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Blood Cries Chapter 19

June 11, 1977
1:47 a.m.

The headlights of Sheriff Maddox’s patrol car shined down on broken, uneven pavement.  He drummed his fingers nervously on the steering wheel as he drove deeper into the woods.  As he approached a bend in the road, he knew he had arrived at his destination by the flashing blue lights reflecting against the trees.  He parked behind a state trooper's vehicle and then sat for a moment, watching.

Three sets of flood lights had been set up to allow his people to do their work in the darkness, and from his vantage point the lights flickered with the moving shadows of men and women going about their business. 

He left his keys in the ignition and his door hanging open as he moved toward the disabled vehicle at the center of the ongoing investigation.  He walked right through the police tape like it wasn’t there and carried it with him around his stomach like a slipping sash on a beauty pageant contestant.  His deputies scrounged to redraw the perimeter. 

“Hey, Sheriff,” Ford said, coming to meet to meet him.  He read the expression on his boss’s face.  “I know.  A damn tragedy is what it is.”

Maddox noticed the yellow tape, lifted it away from his body, and let it drop to the ground.  He skirted the back end of a 1974 Ford Torino, raking his hand across the tail light.  One of the illumination rigs—rows of lamp shells stacked on top of each other—had been set up about five feet away, and shined light down on the passenger side door of the Torino.

“Jesus Christ,” the sheriff muttered.

“I know, Sheriff.  I couldn’t believe it myself.  I mean, I could believe it—look at who we’re dealing with—but dang, I mean, are you kidding me?”

Maddox crouched beside the victim, adjusting his stance to prevent his shadow from obscuring any clues.  A pair of legs and a torso protruded from underneath the vehicle, posed like a mechanic checking the undercarriage.  The front passenger side tire had been removed and had fallen, or been thrown, into the grass a few feet away.  A jack lay on its side beside the dead girl. 

“Jesus Fucking Christ,” said the sheriff.

“Yep,” Ford said.  “I ain’t never seen anyone change a tire like that before.”

Judging by the victim’s clothes—white short pants, orange striped halter top, plain white tennis shoes and bobby socks—she couldn’t have been older than 15 or 16 years old.  Maddox couldn’t get a good look her face beneath the car, separated as it was from view by the rotor pinning her neck to the road.

Sheriff Maddox reached into his shirt pocket and removed a handkerchief.  Even in the middle of the night it was 85 degrees and muggy.  The mosquitos would feast on their damp skin.  Maddox dabbed his forehead with the handkerchief and then held it over his nose and mouth as he bent close to the body for a more thorough examination.  “The poor girl,” he said.

“If you ask me,” Ford began, “I don’t believe she was changing a tire.  You’d have to be pretty stupid to go up under a car like that, especially when you ain’t got no jack base.  I believe she was placed there.”

Maddox took a few deep breaths into his handkerchief and then looked up at his chief deputy.  “Of course she was placed here,” he said quietly.  “Clearly, the girl was murdered.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Ford said.  He smiled in his usual way.  “It’s a set-up, plain and simple.”

“Make sure no one comes up here,” Maddox said as he folded up his handkerchief and restored it to his breast pocket.  

He surveyed the perimeter, checking the placement of his staff.  Satisfied, he turned his attention to the flat tire lying in the grass by the side of the road.  He pulled a flashlight out of his utility belt and shined the light in a circle around the tread until he found the puncture wound.  “Probably a knife,” he said.

The radio squawked in a nearby cruiser.  “Hold that thought, Sheriff,” Ford said.  “I’m getting a transmission.”  He ducked into his car and pulled the hand set to his mouth.  A few seconds later he called out to the sheriff, who was shining his flashlight on the tracks in the dirt beside the road.

“That was Tommy.  He said he’s got the girl’s parents down the street.  They want to see the girl.”

“How in the hell are they here already?  I just got here, for Christ’s sake!”

“They told Tommy they’ve been out searching for the girl all night.  Apparently, they stopped by the station, and Sheila told them we had her here.”

“Do they know she’s dead?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  Tommy wants to know if he should let them come down the road.”

“Is it the Reverend?  Is he here?”

“I believe so.  What do you want me to do?” Ford asked.

“I told you I don’t want anyone up here!”

“That’s what I told Tommy.  He said they won’t take no for an answer.”

Maddox paced back and forth in the road.  “If that son of a bitch thinks he can contaminate his own crime scene, he’s got another thing coming.”

Ford held the hand set to his chest as he waited for a definitive answer.

Maddox stopped and put his hand on his hips.  He looked at the ground.  “She can come,” he said finally.  “He can stay in the car.  I don’t want him anywhere near this place.”

“You got it, Sheriff.  You want I should radio Tommy to bring her up?”

Maddox marched down the road.  “I’ll go get her myself.  You and Jimbo and Charlotte get the girl out from under the car.  Cover her up with something.  I don’t want her mama to see her like this.” 

“You got it, Sheriff.”

It was a perfect location to dump a body—a little-used access road connecting two highways and surrounded by forest.  Only one person lived in the area.  The killer likely would have killed the girl at another location and then brought her here, knowing the odds of anyone driving by were slim, and giving him time to arrange the scene.

Milton Hendricks, the one person who lived in the area, had discovered the body on his way home from a fishing trip around 11:45 p.m.  He immediately called the police, who notified the sheriff’s office and the state trooper’s office.   Maddox received the call around 12:10.  Stirred from his bed and half asleep, he barked the necessary orders into the phone. 

By now, the routine was familiar both to him and his crew.  Everyone knew what to do.  He told his wife to go back to sleep—she needed her rest—and then made himself a cup of coffee, showered and pressed his uniform.  He had taken his time, knowing he was in for a long night.  Now, as he came to the end of the road, he cursed himself for wasting so much time. 

He found Tommy sitting on the hood of his car cleaning his fingernails with a pocket knife.  Another vehicle was angled toward his, and Tommy appeared to be using the other car’s head lamps to aid him in his task.

Sheriff Maddox trotted into the cross beams.  Tommy hopped down from the hood of his patrol car and folded up his knife.  Maddox looked from his deputy to the darkened windshield of a black Crown Victoria.  He could just make out the face of the Reverend sitting in the driver’s seat.  The girl’s foster mother, Cassandra Baxter, sat beside him.

Maddox focused on the driver.  “She can come with me,” he said.  “You stay in the car.”

The Reverend leaned out of his window.  “That is my wife.  I should be with her.”

“This doesn’t concern you,” Maddox said.

Mrs. Baxter scrambled out of the passenger’s seat and hurried over to the sheriff.

 “There is no cause to treat me this way,” the Reverend said.  “If any harm has come to that girl, then I am a victim also.”

“If you’re a victim, then I’m the king of the ocean,” Maddox said.  He took Cassandra’s arm in his, patted her on the hand, and escorted her up the road.

The Reverend clenched the steering wheel.

Jim Easton’s van wheeled in behind the deputy’s car, blaring “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band.  Jim jumped out of the van and jogged up to the deputy. 

“Hey, Tommy,” he said.  “Thanks for the tip.  Who is it this time?”

Tommy tilted his head in the direction of the Reverend.

“Holy shit,” Jim said.  “Is that who I think it is?”

“The one and only.”

Jim moved between Tommy and the man parked a few feet away.  He lowered his voice to a whisper.  “What the hell is he doing here?”

“Waiting for his wife to identify the body of her little girl.”

“Holy shit,” Jim said.  “He killed his own daughter?”

Tommy nodded.

“I wonder if he’d give me an interview.”

“Well, he did just kill his daughter.  He’d probably love to discuss that with a member of the press.”

“Actually, I think she’s a step daughter,” Jim said.  “You remember Clarence Woods?  He played football at Benjamin Russell, but then died a few years ago?  That’s his girl.”

“That makes sense,” Tommy said.  “The Reverend won’t have to worry about her daddy coming after him.”

“I’m gonna go see if he’ll talk to me.”

“It’s your funeral.”

*        *        *

They walked through the darkness, following the beam shining down from Maddox’s flashlight.  Cassandra clung to his arm like a life raft.  Every step she took was a stagger.  They walked in silence, Maddox wondering how to approach the delicate inevitable topic, and Cassandra staring into the woods with eyes as wide and round as a wounded animal’s.

“I’ve had that girl since she was three years old,” she said after a while.

“This isn’t going to be easy, Mrs. Baxter.”

“I took her in after her father died.  Her mother wasn’t fit to raise her.  Everyone knew that.  Even her mother knew that.”

“I have to warn you.  What you are about to see is a gruesome spectacle.  You’ll need to prepare yourself.”

“She’s grown up so much.  She acts like she’s ready to go out into the world.”

“Do you know anyone who would want to harm her?” Maddox asked.

“That girl acted like nothing in the world could harm her.  She could stand up to anyone.  I halfway believed it myself.”

“Did your husband want to harm her?”

Cassandra stopped and turned to him.  Maddox looked into her eyes.  Even from the dim afterglow of his flashlight he could see they were wet around the edges.  She opened her mouth to say something, then turned her head away and they resumed walking.  Her grip around his arm loosened.

“Why would Will want to hurt her?” she asked.  “She was his daughter too.”

“Ma’am, when was the last time you saw your daughter?”

“We drove out to my sister’s house this morning.  We spent the day there.  We came back around seven, but then Lucy said she wanted to go out again.  I said, ‘Forget it. It’s too late.’  I went to the den to watch television.  I heard the car start up.  When I went to look for her, she was gone.”

“And where was Reverend Baxter during all this?”

“Today?  I don’t know.  He said he had business.  I made a report.  I called the police.  Will came home while I was making a report to one of your officers.   Will drove me around afterwards looking for her.  We drove back out to my sister’s place, but Lucy wasn’t there.  We stopped by the police station on the way home.  They said you had her here.”

They rounded the bend to the crime scene.  Cassandra released the sheriff’s arm and went forward alone.

 “Mrs. Baxter,” Maddox called after her, but she wouldn’t turn around.  For some reason, he let her go on.  He watched her round the back end of the vehicle.  He could see her face move back and forth as her mind tried to process what she was seeing.  Then he saw her face contort in pain.  She dropped to the ground, and a low cry emanated from the spot where she fell. 

Go to Chapter 20